“December 7, 1941–a date which will live in infamy–the United States of America was suddenly and deliberately attacked … The United States was at peace with that nation and … was still in conversion with the government and its emperor looking toward the maintenance of peace … it seemed useless to continue the existing diplomatic negotiations, it contained no threat or hint of war or armed attack.”
That’s how the American people were introduced to their involvement in the Second World War.
Conspiracy theories aside, American isolationalsim was broken in that moment and as a nation we became the stewards of brazen military might as the world’s guardian.
And, so we flexed our muscle for the common good. The common good of America’s perceived freedom. The common good of our allies. The common good of those oppressed by our enemies. The common good of mankind as a whole.
It was not just an act of defensive self-preservation but an acknoladgement that we are all in this together and as such it was America’s responsibility to do her fair share in participating the the human condition of the world.
Because, it was more than just human beings that died at Pearl Harbor. Just like it was more than just human lives lost at the Battles of Lexington and Concord. Just like it was more than just lives lost at Fort Sumter. It was a loss of perceived innocence resulting in a cataclysmic change in the existing social norm.
We mourn those whose lives were lost and carry the burden of those whose lives were forever changed by it. But, moreso, we suffer the weight of our own national identity being forever changed because of it. You and I are the result of these monumental shifts in what it means to be an American. And, as such we should never, ever forget those moments which defined the American psyche.
While it would prove to stroke our ego that our long overdue entrance into the War would signal a turning of the tide in warding off authoritarian dictators with facist, xenophobic beliefs the reality is we were only successful in our cause because we were aligned with others already fighting the same fight. Their sacrifices became our sacrifices as ours became theirs. We were aligned not as individual soldiers or individual nations but under the commonality of humans resisting an enemy set to eradicate us.
It’s true that not all who sacrificed for the common cause of the greater good were equal. And, there were many, many atrocities perpetuated by the allies. And, the legacy of our choices and their consequences are often not fully disclosed, intentionally misrepresented, and otherwise not treated with the honesty that is necessary to understand the full depth and breath of what the War cost us – as Americans and as humans.
Franklin D. Roosevelt sought to bring us together in spite of our diversity and our differences an overcome that which had held us both apart from the world an oftentimes at odds with ourselves. The incident became an opportunity to mold an American spirit to that which it was not previously. We were tasked to take the horrors of the tumultuous day(s) before as an inspiration be the nation he believed us to be.
It’s a shame it took massive carnage to find ourselves and participate in the affairs of the world. It’s a shame, too, 76 years later we’re now in a position to revert back to that same sense of isolationist hibernation the atrocity had to wake us from.
Personally, I sincerely hope it doesn’t take another incident like Pearl Harbor to remind us of our duty to one another as humans to participate in the world for the greater good of all and that we continue to be cognizant of the sacrifices of all who lost something during the War that without them we couldn’t be here today – we have an obligation to uphold their memory but moreso what their sacrifices stood for.